A rarity in that Manchester United haven’t had a match in eight days. Today was a potentially tricky match against a Queens Park Rangers side who’ve given Manchester City a hard game recently. They’ve also beaten Chelsea in a game that has since been remembered better for the allegation of racial abuse levelled against England captain John Terry, something that the FA are no doubt investigating thoroughly, bearing in mind the amount of time they’re taking to conclude.
I first went to Loftus Road as a young adult in January 1991 and paid £6.00 on the gate to stand on the terrace, in what is now known as the School End. Despite the small allocation of tickets granted to United in today’s game, I went down “on spec” and managed to get two tickets at face value for £60.00 each, for myself and our kid. In twenty years, the face value of a ticket at Loftus road has gone up tenfold, my net wages haven’t. What hasn’t changed in the slightest in the last twenty years is the layout at Loftus road. The stadium is by top league standards, tiny. Even allowing for the compact nature of Loftus Road, the view of the pitch, from wherever you are in the ground is spot on and due to the way the roof’s configured, amenable to an excellent atmosphere. The atmosphere today from the United end was raucous and lively.
When the match kicked off, United immediately went on the attack and within 52 seconds, Wayne Rooney had scored. The goal had not only caught the QPR defence cold, it had caught the United fans cold too. There was a split second delay in the United fans reaction to the goal, nobody had believed that United had actually scored until they’d seen the United players leaping in celebration. The header that Rooney had guided into the QPR net seemed to have been a pretty weak one but it outfoxed the goalkeeper, Radek Cerny. Whilst that might have been a soft goal for Cerny to concede, he more than made amends for it later, with two saves in particular, the first one on 31 minutes from Antonio Valencia one of the best saves I’ve ever seen. United should’ve been out of sight by then but the linesman made a wrong offside call on a Danny Wellbeck goal on 23 minutes and an open net miss from Jonny Evans four minutes later. To my eyes, it was the only thing Evans got wrong today in what else was, an excellent performance from him. On 60 minutes, Michael Carrick scored for the first time since January 2010 when he capitalised on a Joey Barton mistake and ran through unchallenged, to slot the ball past Cerny, in the bottom left hand corner of the net in front of disbelieving and ecstatic United fans. We were stood there open mouthed at how he was able to run through the QPR midfield without a single attempt of a tackle on him. Knowing Neil Warnock the way I do, I’d love to know what he said to his players in the home changing room after the match, especially after that goal. All in all, a great result and comfortable performance from a stadium where United have sometimes struggled in the past. The only gripe I have from what was an excellent performance was United’s profligate finishing/final ball in a match where United could’ve made a good dent in City’s superior goal difference and the fact that I didn’t put two pairs of socks on as my bleedin’ feet were freezing, as I stood watching the match.
United fans, as per usual were in great voice away from home. Rooney’s goal in the first minute put the reds in a great humour too. New chants of “Thursday nights in Amsterdam”, “Channel 5 is wonderful, it’s full of…” & “Warnock for England” were added to the festive staple of “Twelve days of Cantona”, “Giggs will tear you apart” and “Jingle bells…”.
From leaving White City tube station on the Central line, for the five minute walk up South Africa Road to Loftus Road, there was a real excitement from the QPR fans for the match today. QPR fans are by London standards, a load of teddy bears. There’s no moody paranoia on South Africa Road as there would be if you were walking down Kings Road to Chelsea, Seven Sisters Road to Tottingham or the Old Kent Road to Millwall. Bryan Robson was walking down South Africa Road alongside Sam Allardyce and he was constantly asked for autographs and photographs whilst Allardyce was ignored. Robbo was geniality personified with everybody’s request. Outside the Springbok Pub, I asked an alternative ticket trader that I’m acquainted with, how it was going on the brief. Worryingly for me, he said he had none and it was nigh on impossible getting one for the United end. Hovering around the incoming United fans coaches shouting any spare tickets, yielded a big fat foxtrot alpha and half an hour before kick off, I’m making contingency plans to watch the match in a pub in Shepherds Bush. My luck changed at 11.45 when a UWS seller who’d just plotted up, guided me to a feller with a spare who wanted face value. If I see that UWS seller at Old Trafford anytime soon, he’s getting a pint off me.